The Buddha said that the path is “good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end.”
I stumbled on an article “The Quiet Hell of Extreme Meditation” in, of all places, Men’s Health magazine. Now, what do you think they mean by “extreme” meditation? Sitting alone in the jungle for 13 years? Meditating upside down over a pit of snakes?
Nope, it was a 10 day Vipassana retreat. Now, the first thing you’ll notice is that 10 days with dozens of other newbie’s is not what I would call extreme meditation. Not when there are people doing 1 month, 6 months, 1 year retreats and even longer. By those lights 10 days is pretty modest. On the other hand, it might be extreme for someone just starting. And it really might feel extreme for someone with not much quietness in their mind. I know for me 30’ felt extreme the first time I tried!
He describes his 10 days as absolute hell. He’s literally out of his mind with boredom and pain at one point. Is that ever how you feel in meditation? I hope not! Because it doesn’t have to be that way. Now, everyone can have a difficult sit, but if you are going through “hours of hell” something is way off.
When I first started with Vipassana, my experience was a little like the guy in the article. It turns out Vipassana is really, really, really not for me. I came close to just quitting and giving up. Meditation was all about willpower. About gritting my teeth and suffering through. And that is no way to sit.
Now compare that to Ajahn Brahm’s 6 Months of Bliss. The monk Ajahn Brahm recently took a sabbatical as abbot of his monastery, and spent 6 months meditating completely by himself. Was that extreme meditation? Not for him. He describes it as 6 months of bliss.
What was the difference? Why was it 10 days of hell but six months of bliss? Right Effort.